FETC 2013 | Profile

What's Changing Education? For This Tech Tool Expert, It's Collaboration

If Adam Bellow had his way, K-12 educators would jump out of the technology "echo chambers" that many of them are trapped in and test out new tools, implement new applications, collaborate among each other, and allow more student-owned devices into the classroom. Bellow, a former high school teacher and current technology training specialist, founded the educational web tool resource eduTecher in 2007.

Bellow's latest project is eduClipper, an educational "digital clipboard" that curates educational content online. "eduClipper works on the same 'shared resources' premise as eduTecher," he explained, "but now I'm flipping the equation and instead of providing information to the masses I'm getting teachers and students to the eduClipper site to share their own information."

T.H.E. Journal recently spoke with Bellow about his thoughts for the future of education technology and his picks for the three technologies every educator should be using.

Bridget McCrea:  What changes are coming to the K-12 classroom over the next decade?

Adam Bellow:  There's a lot going on right now. I talk frequently about assessments and what we consider to be 'valid' assessments these days. A lot of people speak about teaching to the standardized tests and Common Core curriculum, but I think students do valid work that can't be assessed with a No. 2 pencil. I feel that education will start shifting in that direction. So, our love affair with the No. 2 pencil and the bubble/Scantron sheet will eventually die off.

adam bellow fetc presenter

Bellow started his educational career as an assistant high school English teacher for students with learning disabilities. In 2011, he was recognized by ISTE as the Outstanding Young Educator of the Year. He will present two sessions at FETC 2013, which starts Jan. 28, 2013 in Orlando, FL:

  • The Best Web Tools and Tech Toys for your Classroom!
  • A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future

In the fast-paced frenzy of his A Funny Thing Happened presentation, Bellow will use 365 PowerPoint slides to highlight the problems teachers face when trying to introduce and use new classroom technologies. In many cases he says the faculty lounge is one of the biggest challenges. "A lot of finger-pointing goes on in there," Bellow says. "My goal with this session is to get attendees thinking about the small alterations that can be made to turn problems into real solutions."

I think we'll find more validity in real group projects, not just fake group work or contrived elements of it. Students now have the power and the tools that they need--with simple web-based technologies, for example--to do the same stuff that "grown ups" do in the real world. Students, for example, are using the same tools that professionals are using to make movies, songs, and all sorts of other things.

McCrea:  What emerging technologies will impact the classroom?

Bellow:  I think we'll see a bigger adoption of mobile and bring your own device (BYOD). Also, as technology tools get smaller, more portable, and more powerful, the devices themselves will become less of an issue. For example, the technical limitations of saying, "Oh, we need to have a certain type of device, or we need to have a certain network infrastructure," won't be there anymore. And with everything moving to cloud-based options, I also don't think that we'll have the limitations that we're currently dealing with in terms of both hardware and software. 

McCrea:  How do you see mobile and BYOD evolving in the K-12 space?

Bellow:  Right now people are terrified of letting kids use cell phones in class because they don't know what the students will do with them and how they'll actually use them. A friend of mine worked through this issue in his own class by simply putting an index card on the upper right hand corner of every student's desk and told them to leave their cell phones on the card at all times. So, instead of telling them to get it out when they need it, it's on the desk all the time. And then the teacher knows right away if and when the student is playing with his or her phone. This is such a simple way around something that educators see as a major obstacle to a successful BYOD program. What they forget is that there can be problems with anything--give students crayons or markers, for example, and there could be graffiti in the bathroom. The reality is that sometimes the simplest concepts can be fixed easily by giving students boundaries and then telling them, "This is what I'd like you to do."

McCrea:  When you assess the educational technology "graveyard," are there are any current technologies that won't live up to the hype?

Bellow:  I'm skeptical of video instruction and offerings like the Khan Academy. Research has shown that while video is great for visual learners, it doesn't help teach content. I think it's much more useful to have "corrective" videos that are disruptive in nature and start with subjects and information that the students don't already know. Derek Muller of Veritasium addresses this point and talks about how concepts like Khan Academy don't work because they just compound misconceptions. I don't want to pick on Khan Academy, but straight lectures don't get to the misconceptions; they just explain broad concepts that students don't grasp very well through video without practice.

Three Technologies that Every Educator Should Know Right Now

Adam Bellow singles out three tech tools that the K-12 space should be thinking about:

Tools that help students create: Wii Video and UJAM are just two examples of tools that allow students to use their imaginations and "create stuff," according to Bellow. "Twenty years ago it was PrintShop and five years ago it was Kid Pix," he adds. "Now there are even greater, online tools that allow kids to made videos and music and teachers can easily tie into their classroom curriculums."

Social tools: Edmodo's reputation as the "Facebook for schools," doesn't do the social learning network justice, according to Bellow, who sees it as a valuable teaching tool. "Edmodo and other social elements allow students to learn social behaviors in an appropriate way and in an appropriate setting. I think we'll see more tools integrating with Edmodo or offering features that allow kids to communicate and collaborate in a social manner."

Information automation tool:  If you're not already familiar with the If This Then That (IFTTT) automation tool, get ready for it. "IFTTT is a way for teachers to control information," says Bellow, who has used the system to automate the delivery of text messages to his smartphone every time someone uses the hashtag #EdTech on Twitter. "It's a robust, interesting tool that I think we'll see used more in the classroom. "

About the Author

Bridget McCrea is a business and technology writer in Clearwater, FL. She can be reached at [email protected].